Sunday, November 01, 2015

Blue Rider Trio Harp, Steel and Guts

Blue Rider Trio
Harp, Steel and Guts
Mapleshade 06932

Salty Dog-1/ Easy Rider-1/ Last Fair Deal Going Down-1/ Death Have No Mercy In This Land/-1 Ride ‘Till I Die-1/ Make Me A Pallet -2/ Black Betty-1/ Stagolee/ Sweet Home Kokomo-1/ Silver City Bound/ Long Tall Mama-2/ See See Rider-1/ Diddy Wa Diddy-1. 47:43.

Ben Andrews, g, vcl; Mark Wenner hca-1; Jeff Sarli -b-1; Larry Willis-2. 12/99-01/00. Upper Marlboro, MD

The Blue Rider Trio is a Washington, D.C. area-based acoustic blues trio centered around Ben Andrews’ guitar and vocals. The Trio also includes Mark Wenner (of the well-known band, the Nighthawks) on harmonica, and Jeff Sarli (currently with John Mooney, and formerly with Big Joe & the Dynaflows and Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun) on acoustic bass. "Harp, Steel and Guts" is the second Blue Rider Trio Mapleshade release, although the disc includes a couple solo tracks by Andrews and two duets by Andrews with pianist Larry Willis. 

While often described as a delta blues stylist, Andrews’ blues is as indebted to the East Coast blues tradition (particularly Blind Willie McTell), the music of Leadbelly, and the early city blues of Big Bill Broonzy and the like. Andrews is a very skilled guitarist, whether playing a slide solo or tear off a fingerstyle run. Throughout he maintains a steady, unhurried, rhythm. Andrews also injects plenty of personality to well worn songs. His version of Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” transforms the Johnson lament in an lively East Coast blues with very nice slide guitar picking. “Sweet Home Kokomo” is less distinctive, and owes much more to Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” than it does to Kokomo Arnold’s “Kokomo Blues.” Sarli consistently provides a steady rhythmic anchor and Wenner adds a most sympathetic accompanying voice. His atmospheric playing adds to Andrews’ solemn treatment of Reverend Gary Davis’ stark “Death Have No Mercy In This Land.” 

Andrews’ rendition of “Stagolee” is derived from Mississippi John Hurt’s recording, while “Silver City Bound” was originally a Leadbelly tribute to Blind Lemon Jefferson. The two duets with pianist Larry Willis are disappointing as Willis sounds a bit tentative accompanying Andrews. Occasionally the performances comes off a bit too self-conscious as on “Easy Rider”, but overall, this is music that has captured Andrews’ passion for many years and it sounds as if he is far from being bored with the songs here. One gaffe in the packaging has “See See Rider” called “C.C. Rider on the back tray card.

I received my review copy either from Mapleshade or from Cadence, in which this review originally appeared in 2001. This is available and also as part of "Early Morning Blues: The Complete Blue Trio Sessions." Ben Andrews passed away in 2011 and was only 51. I had the pleasure of knowing him and see him play numerous times and miss him. Here is a 1990 performance of "Gallows Pole."

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